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Dispatch from the Front Lines: Did you honestly expect better from Premier Buck-a-Beer?
Maybe demanding a police state from an incompetent premier was a bad idea.
(A border crossing in Australia.)
Happy Saturday Line readers: we’re a little late with our Dispatch today, and can you blame us? Just as we were trying to put a positive spin on the end of the week, word arrived that Ontario is going to become a police state.
Yes, Doug Ford has announced that in order to curb COVID-19, Ontario would enact irrational new restrictions — including closing playgrounds and golf courses, and limiting social gatherings outdoors. And in order to enforce these new orders, police have been granted the authority hassle anyone who is outside their home, and to pull over vehicles to ensure drivers and passengers are out for essential purposes. Violations could generate a $750 ticket. Refusal to co-operate could result in arrest. Interprovincial travel is also being restricted.
The measures are so harsh, in fact, that numerous police forces have publicly stated that they will not be using them. Matt Gurney has been tracking it on Twitter, and it’s a lot.
In short, the lockdown-trumpeting Twitterati, the #COVIDZero hashtaggers, why-can’t-we-do-what-Australia-did? hand wavers, and the panicking doctors are getting exactly what they have been screaming for.
And it isn’t what many of them thought.
Line columnist Jen Gerson made this point two weeks ago:
We seem to handwave a lot about jurisdictions like Australia and New Zealand. OK. Here's a story from the Guardian in which nine public housing towers in Melbourne were surrounded by police, trapping 3,000 people inside their apartments for five days in violation of human rights law. Is that how hardcore we ought to have been?
Could we have surrounded a Toronto Community Housing high-rise with a few hundred cops and forbidden everyone to leave post George Floyd? Remember, our public-health agents and politicians wouldn't discourage protesting last summer. I just don't see a lot of progressives who trumpet the Australia model digging down into the details and thinking through the implications. The more punitive your measures, the more disproportionately those measures will hit poor and racialized people.
Not so long ago, we chafed at the mere mention of the fact that COVID seemed to be spreading more aggressively in some minority communities, for a host of cultural and practical reasons. Stories to this effect were castigated as scapegoating. Yet this same crowd of COVID fantasy LARPers now imagines we had the stomach to play it as hard as Oz?
I just don't believe it.
Remember that open letter signed by 150 Ontario doctors a few weeks ago? It sounded the alarm on growing variants within the province, with dire warnings of triaged healthcare: “Patients who we can save today will not have access to life-saving treatment under a triage scenario.”
“The next few days and weeks matter. We do not have enough vaccines in arms to blunt the growth. We cannot allow this virus to run free in our population and hope that the expanded ICU capacity and field hospitals are enough. We cannot rely on the public health measures framework.”
Panic does not make for rational decision making. We at The Line cannot help but note that many of the people who have spent the last few weeks loudly clamouring for Doug Ford to be harsher, harsher, HARSHER, and to close down everything, everything, EVERYTHING in response to the growing crisis rarely seemed to spell out precisely what they wanted him to do — and how they expected him to do it.
Oh wait, you meant you just wanted paid sick leave and stricter definitions of essential workplaces? Perhaps some rationally targeted measures like closing construction sites and high schools? Alas, there were no Twitter likes to be mined in those demands. Oh, so you weren’t looking for more absurd pandemic theatre intended to punish that yoga mom who didn’t don three masks before talking to her kids at the playground? This wasn’t about cracking down on your neighbour’s backyard BBQs, or the recalcitrant youngs, or the apartment-dwelling poors? You never imagined actual lockdown measures might interfere with your cottage escapes, perhaps?
You mean, you didn’t expect the call for ever harsher, ever stricter measures to ever affect you?
Ontario, many of the most financially and psychologically insulated among you have spent the last year screaming for an Australia-style police state from an incompetent, upwardly mobile, low-level populist who was elected to the premiership on the promise of buck-a-beer, and only after he lost the popular vote to run his own party, squeaking through due to some weird riding-weighting system that gave him the win over the party’s preferred choice, Christine Elliott. What fantasy allowed you to delude yourselves into believing that this crew had the capacity to respond to these demands with a rational, targeted, and minimally enforced policy response?
What the hell did you all honestly expect was going to happen?
Oh, and while we don’t have much energy left to expound on this one, trust us, readers … we will be watching this issue closely. For now, file this under D for Duly Noted. Because we think Geist is right.
Lauren Dobson-Hughes set the tone for the week early, in a blistering piece that asked a grim question: are we actually a country. “I often hear politicians note we’re a G7 nation,” she said. This serves two functions; either it’s intended to assert our own importance in a way that downplays our problems, or it’s to rank us to other jurisdictions as if we are comparable to them. … What we don’t do is measure ourselves against how we should perform. Are we doing the best we can to address the challenges we have as a country? I’d argue the challenges we’ve faced in the pandemic were entirely predictable. We didn’t have the capacity to tackle them. But it doesn’t have to be this way — the choice not to invest or maintain the capacities was exactly that — a choice.”
Nick Kadysh was up next, hammering Canadian public health professions for their truly abysmal public comms efforts: “Public-health leaders are no longer on the sidelines — in many very real and important ways they actually run this country at this moment in time. There is simply no excuse for disingenuous communications to the public — or treating people like children. It isn’t just a bad look. It is actively harming the goal of public health.”
Rishi Maharaj kept pouring it on, this time, focusing on how British Columbia, originally a pandemic success story, botched its handling of the third wave. “There is a divide between governments that delivered decisive action and those that plod along behind with half-measures,” he said, “and Canadian governments of all political stripes have consistently fallen on the wrong side of it. The gap in Canada is not between left-wing and right-wing conceptions of government. Our problem is that regardless of political affiliation, our leaders have never fully committed themselves to beating this virus.”
We took a brief, badly needed break from all-COVID, all-the-time to run a delightful line flip by Sky Gilbert, who made a strong defence for Shakespeare’s continued pride of place in our high school classrooms. “Shakespeare’s work is profoundly amoral,” Gilbert said, “his plays and poems refuse to provide us with an objective moral code. They do not tell us how to act, how to think, or how to live. It’s no surprise that the woke folk find it threatening.”
And we ended the week with an absolutely scorching column by Jen Gerson, where she calls out the astonishing selfishness of those older Canadians who are getting picky about which vaccine they’d rather get while the rest of us isolate at home, to keep them safe. “You don't have the right to prevent my son from having another birthday party because you read good things about Moderna on Facebook and another four months stuck at home doesn’t matter to you,” Gerson said. “And you don't have the right to keep kids out of school for one more week to nurse irrational fears of a one-in-one-million outcome.”
Oh, and by the way — we’ve had a ton of new readers find us in recent weeks. Welcome to all of you. If you hadn’t already, please click the little blue button below and join the team. We need your help to grow The Line.
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